The Works of Lord Byron, Volume 2

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“Ancient of days! August Athena! where,
Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul?
Gone – glimmering through the dream of things that were:
First in the race that led to Glory’s goal,
They won, and pass’d away – is this the whole?
A schoolboy’s tale, the wonder of an hour!
The warrior’s weapon and the sophist’s stole
Are sought in vain, and o’er each mouldering tower,
Dim with the mist of years, gray flits the shade of power.”

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Madame Chrysanthème

4620562229_a354537572What a strange book.

It grips you with beautiful descriptions of Japan, shocks you with harsh, almost racist remarks about its people and leaves you with disgust or pity for the protagonist who had sought after this cold and calculative illusion of a relationship.

In the end she is counting the money while he leaves her like this:

“Well, little mousmé, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your little face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicadas.”

Well, what a great affair that was.


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P. Loti (right) with “Chrysanthème” and his friend Yves in Japan, 1885.


Childe Harold´s Pilgrimage

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“X.
Here let me sit upon this massy stone,
The marble column’s yet unshaken base!
Here, son of Saturn, was thy favourite throne!
Mightiest of many such! Hence let me trace
The latent grandeur of thy dwelling-place.
It may not be: nor even can Fancy’s eye
Restore what time hath laboured to deface.
Yet these proud pillars claim no passing sigh;
Unmoved the Moslem sits, the light Greek carols by.

XI.
But who, of all the plunderers of yon fane
On high, where Pallas lingered, loth to flee
The latest relic of her ancient reign-
The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he?
Blush, Caledonia! such thy son could be!
England! I joy no child he was of thine:
Thy free-born men should spare what once was free;
Yet they could violate each saddening shrine,
And bear these altars o’er the long reluctant brine.

XII.
But most the modern Pict’s ignoble boast,
To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared:
Cold as the crags upon his native coast,
His mind as barren and his heart as hard,
Is he whose head conceived, whose hand prepared,
Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains:
Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,
Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains,
And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot’s chains.

XIII.
What! shall it e’er be said by British tongue
Albion was happy in Athena’s tears?
Though in thy name the slaves her bosom wrung,
Tell not the deed to blushing Europe’s ears;
The ocean queen, the free Britannia, bears
The last poor plunder from a bleeding land:
Yes, she, whose generous aid her name endears,
Tore down those remnants with a harpy’s hand.
Which envious eld forbore, and tyrants left to stand.

XV.
Cold is the heart, fair Greece, that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they loved;
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!”

What a great excerpt about the Elgin Marbles.
The power of poetry… few verses, Byron’s emphatic language and the effect is more profound and memorable than anything written in prose.
And how bold and outspoken against his fellow countrymen!

The Joy of Music

512cmfYcaOL“My idol has been desecrated before my eyes! There he lies, a bedraggled, deaf, syphilitic; besmirched by the vain tongue of pseudocriticism; no attention paid to his obvious genius, his miraculous outpourings, his pure revelation, his vision of glory, brotherhood, divinity! There he lies a mediocre melodist, a homely harmonist, an iterant riveter of a rhythmist, an ordinary orchestrator, a commonplace contrapuntist!”

“Form is only an empty word, a shell, without this gift of inevitability; a composer can write a string of perfectly molded sonata-allegro movements, with every rule obeyed, and still suffer from bad form. Beethoven broke all the rules, and turned out pieces of breathtaking rightness. Rightness- that’s the word! When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are that you are listening to Beethoven. Melodies, fugues, rhythms, leave them to the Chaikovskys and the Hindemiths and the Ravels. Our boy has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: Something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows it’s own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.”

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

1098486“And then something odd happens. My awareness (of myself, of him, of the room, of the physical reality around and beyond us) instantly grows fuzzy. Or wobbly. I think I am dissolving. I feel -my mind feels- like a sand castle with all the sand sliding away in the receding surf. What’s happening to me? This is scary, please let it be over! I think maybe if I stand very still and quiet, it will stop.

This experience is much harder, and weirder, to describe than extreme fear or terror. Most people know what it is like to be seriously afraid. If they haven’t felt it themselves, they ‘ve at least seen a movie, or read a book, or talked to frightened friend -they can at least imagine it. But explaining what I ‘ve come to call “disorganisation” is a different challenge altogether. Consciousness gradually loses its coherence. One’s center gives away. The center cannot hold. The “me” becomes a haze, and the solid center from which one experiences reality breaks up like a bad radio signal. There is no longer a sturdy vantage point from which to look out, take things in, assess what’s happening. No core holds things together, providing the lens through which to see the world, to make judgments and comprehend risk. Random moments of time follow one another. Sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings don’t go together. No organising principle takes successive moments in time and puts them together in a coherent way from which sense can be made. And it’s all taking place in slow motion.”

:-o

Swann´s Way

12749Argg!!
“À la recherche du temps perdu” or how a book will manage to break your nerves.

First pages in the book, you desperately try to make sense of its chaotic lengthy structure when suddenly you get struck by this:
“But it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was deep and allowed my mind to relax entirely; then it would let go of the map of the place where I had fallen asleep and, when I woke in the middle of the night, since I do not know where I was, I did not even understand in the first moment who I was; I had only, in its original simplicity, the sense of existence as it may quiver in the depths of an animal; I was more destitute than a cave dweller; but then the memory-not yet of the place where I was, but of several of those where I had lived and where I might have been-would come to me like help from on high to pull me out of the void from which I could not have gone out on my own; I had crossed centuries of civilization in one second…”

How amazing a description of this state of confusion between sleep and wake, like the first moments after you awake from a dream, when you try to make sense of who what where are you…and as the seconds pass this progressive formation of memories is that helps you, you are in a room, in a bed, your bed, your room, oh it was a dream and you woke up, you are you, confusion goes away. Then it must be true, if you didn’t have these extensive memories to help you, this linking ability of past and present, you can imagine how a goldfish may feel, you can “quiver in the depths of an animal”. Yes, this is truly the closest you can get to the basis of the existence, the foundation of you. Brilliant. You are hooked on reading now.

And then? And then the same style of long sentences follows, and if you are patient you can notice (appreciate?) the strange (beautiful?) syntax while trying to figure out whether you should focus on the story finally and not the words on the paper. Having that in mind you keep reading and reading, page after page, when you realize no sense is unfolding, it is 30+ pages of description of objects, people, trivial childhood memories and places and no sign of all these connecting somehow into something meaningful, storylike. Desperation! Where is the book about memories and self-contemplation you thought it to be? You start wondering whether you are losing your time with it (temps perdu indeed!) or whether it’s you that you can’t get it (most likely!) whilst slowly but surely your attention drifts away and you begin in your mind a “recherche” for what your next book will be. And ironically, on page 42: “when I read, I often daydreamed, for entire pages, of something quite different”. No wonder, Proust. No wonder.

Anyway, you make a connection with the author, you think maybe all those pages were intentional to ease you into a story which is coming. And just when you thought you ll give up, indeed the episode with the tea & madeleine cookie begins. It’s such a nice description of the formation and recall of memories triggered by drinking just a cup of tea. But it’s even more amazing that Proust intuitively figured out that memories of smell and taste last longer than any other memories (it is scientifically proven nowadays). And as if that’s not enough, the chapter ends with another great metaphor: “And as in that game enjoyed by the Japanese in which they fill a porcelain bowl with water and steep in it little pieces of paper until then indistinct which, the moment they are immersed, stretch and twist, assume colours and distinctive shapes, become flowers, houses, human figures, firm and recognizable, so now all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water lillies of the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this which is acquiring form and solidity, emerged, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.” Makes you want to read more.

And that’s exactly why this book is so annoying. You know there is so much in it, but it requires so much patience, attention and dedication to uncover it. When you read it fast you feel you are missing something, when you read it slow you feel you are spending so much time for it! Especially when there are other more pleasant novels waiting on your to read list. It’s just…finishing only one chapter of 45 pages, took me so much time trying to focus my attention, so much effort and mental strain that, to put it mildly…it is terrifying to consider there are 400 pages more.

And this is only the first volume.

Of seven.

:-/